Columbia welcomes writing wonders

By Amanda Murphy

Columbia has built its academics around immersing students in real-life experiences. That philosophy is once again illustrated by Story Week.

This is the 15th year the Fiction Writing Department has organized a plethora of opportunities for students and faculty to learn what it means to be a literary success.

The free festivities will begin on March 13 and last until March 18 with a literary lineup, including Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, author of the cult-classic “Trainspotting.” Other participants include Jennifer Egan, author of “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” and Columbia professor Audrey Niffenegger, author of the critically-acclaimed book “The Time Traveler’s Wife.”

“Very few universities in the entire country have an event this impressive in terms of the wealth [of] talent from all [across] the country coming in,” said Gina Frangello, adjunct faculty member in the Fiction Writing Department and frequent participant in the festival.

The goal of Story Week is to provide students with a variety of workshops, readings and speeches. There will be more than 25 participating writers as well as contributions from faculty and alumni.

The events will last all day, most beginning at 11 a.m. Writers will exhibit their particular strengths in the workshops, Frangello said.

“[The festival] really helps the students realize what their options are as a literary writer but also how to get involved in the literary scene,” she said.

According to Fiction Writing Department Chair Randall Albers, the festival has grown steadily since its start. The first Story Week lasted two days, and the college invited three contributing writers.

Frangello has participated in Story Week since 1997 and said she is impressed with the authors Columbia is bringing in this year. She will be in one of the week’s most popular events, Literary Rock & Roll, in which she, Welsh and another author will do readings and signings.

The event, which will be held at 6 p.m. on March 16 at the music venue Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., will also include short comedy with Stephanie Shaw and music spun by deejays Joe Shanahan, Welsh and Don De Grazia.

“I think all of the Chicago writers definitely illustrate you don’t have to live in New York or come from a literary family or have connections,” Frangello said. “If we stick together and stay true to what we believe in and what we’re doing, then you can get an audience for your work.”

The week offers talks for several majors, including journalism, theater and film.

Golden Globe-winning actress Regina Taylor is a featured writer for the event and has made a successful career out of writing, directing and acting. She has been in a number of television shows and

movies, including “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Lean on Me.”

“I will be [giving] a talk with students about my career, and I think that will give [students] some practical information about the business of writing [and] passion needed for moving forward in this career,” Taylor said.

This is Taylor’s first appearance at Story Week, and she will be leading a playwriting workshop on March 17. Students will perform scenes from her play “Magnolia,” and she will work with the actors to direct the pieces.

Columbia expects approximately 4,000 students, faculty and members of the public to join in the events.

Albers said the festival expects many spectators from outside the college to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the festival.

“We have a lot of events that are interesting and informative for people working in a variety of disciplines,” Albers said. “We regard it as one of Columbia’s signature events, and it has become a festival that has gained notoriety [throughout] the years.”

For a complete list of writers, check